Welcome to the second article in our series Unique Approaches to Representing the Figure. Today, we’re exploring the emotive, figurative sculptures of Christopher Corson! A local artist and Studio Gallery member, Christopher examines the human condition in a way that is unique and insightful. There are infinite ways to represent the figure, and the figure has long been a favorite subject in art. With so much history, and so many different artistic perspectives, how should we approach issues of the figure? Well, let’s begin by slowing down and zooming in on our next featured artist, Christopher Corson!
Meet the Artist
Christopher Corson has an impressive exhibition history, showing his work in numerous galleries and art spaces since 2014. A local artist, he’s had shows throughout the Washington DC/Virginia/Maryland area, including at the IA & A at Hillyer (our neighbor!), the Baltimore Clayworks, East City Art, and many more! His clay forms are touchingly human and fluid in form. They are filled with intensely raw emotion, and though one might assume that the face is a deeply important part of a figurative work, Christopher’s sculptures prove that that is not necessarily true. His universally comprehensible creations oftentimes do not have faces (or heads, for that matter), and when they do, the face is generally tilted to the floor or covered with a hand, seemingly in an attempt to be hidden.
I sat down with Christopher Corson to ask him some specific questions about his approach to portraying the human figure in his artwork.
In your artist’s statement, it says that your resulting pieces often surprise you with “more honesty and nuance” than your initial feeling. Can you elaborate on how you encourage an element of the unknown in relation to your figurative ceramics, and why?
When I talk about working deeply from inner senses of body and feeling, it is how I reach down into my inner emotional reservoir. That is where I want my pieces to come from. My conscious mind bobs around on those deeper waters, thinking that it understands more than it does. Everyone is like this. When I am moved to start a piece, my mind can’t help thinking about what may be bubbling up. But it takes finishing a piece and then witnessing it, before I understand the emotional content in full. In this process, I don’t mean to be encouraging an element of the unknown. Without meaning to quibble about words, the content that emerges is always known to me, just not fully in my conscious mind. I know it within myself at a deeper, non-verbal level, which I have come to value as much or more than what my brain can do. Making my figures brings this material into consciousness, and it is always more honest and nuanced than my mind guessed.
You have experimented with multiple methods of firing your ceramics, including Raku, pit and wood firing. How do the different methods impact the moods of your final pieces, and which method is your favorite?
Pit firing is by far my favorite firing method, for several reasons. First, it gives me soft colors, transitions and surfaces that are very compatible with the human form, without trying to reproduce actual skin. So I get figures that are intentionally artwork but still evoke human character and appeal. By contrast, wood firing will create beautiful surfaces and colors, but they look very hard. Raku can also produce beautiful surface figuration, but the patterning most often seems independent of the emotional content that I put into my forms. I also like pit firing for for the fact that I can’t control the outcome. It gives my pieces the potential to continue developing even after they have left my hands.
I’m interested in your statement that “by the time a piece has been formed and fired, it has experienced its own life transformation” and can express your own. On that note, how do you feel about self portraits versus more ambiguous/universal figures with regard to expressing emotions?
What I believe about myself and all people is that if we go deeply enough inside, we all contain the full emotional breadth of the human condition. As individuals, we express only a limited portion of this spectrum, and we may have may little conscious awareness of the rest. When I talk about going deeply inside for my work, I believe that I am piercing through my individuality to the more universal level. By plumbing myself as an individual, I believe that my work can have achieve a more universal emotional appeal. There is, however, a practical issue when it comes to faces, which tend to individualize a figure. Some artists achieve ambiguous/universal faces. At this point in my work, I usually turn the heads down or cover the face, so the viewer doesn’t get distracted from the content of the form.
I am a bit reluctant to talk very fully about my pieces, because I don’t want to interfere with the viewer’s own experience. If I have been successful in giving one of my pieces the capacity to communicate emotionally with others, I have to respect that their communication will be different from mine — and equally valid. With that caveat, making “And the Light and the Dark Came Back Together” was an extraordinary experience for me. I feel the postures that I want to do in my own body. This piece came out of lying in bed one morning and not yet having the energy to get up. All I could manage was to lift and turn my head, at which point I knew that I had my next piece. I proceeded to make it, thinking that it would be about a body still at rest but just stirring to action. When it emerged from the pit firing, the upper surface of the figure had turned light gray and the lower surface a deep black. And on portions of the head, the arms and the legs, there were sharp lines dividing the upper and the lower. I immediately thought of Genesis, when God divided the light from the dark. This figure brought them back together, and its stirring to action was deciding whether it would be good or evil. Of course, no one else has had my reaction to the piece. They have had their own.
From staff contributor Halley Stubis.